Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cuscusu (Sicilian Couscous with Fish)

The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily, has a very interesting history, which has left its mark on Sicilian cuisine.  The Greeks brought farming to the island.  The Romans turned Sicily into a breadbasket for the mainland.  However, it is the Arabs that brought changes that have endured in the cuisine of Sicily.  Arabs brought irrigation to the island, as well as a host of fruits and vegetables that are not just common, but perhaps synonymous with the cuisine, such as eggplants, oranges, pistachios and lemons.  Arabs also introduced spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and saffron.  And, finally, Arabs introduced couscous.

This recipe is from a cookbook called Regional Italian Cuisine, which provides more than 200 recipes from every region of Italy.  The recipe requires everything to be made from scratch, including the fish stock used when steaming the couscous.  And, while I would ordinarily make my own fish stock, I decided to try to modify the recipe to make it easier for people to cook.  The first step to making the recipe easier is to substitute seafood stock for the fish stock, thereby allowing people to use fillets rather than whole fish to make the recipe.

I also made a couple of other adjustments.  First, cuscusu, like many Italian fish dishes (such as brodetto) usually is made with different types of fish.  However, that can be a little costly, as fish can be expensive.  So, I decided to make this dish with one fish, halibut, which is a more economical way of making this dish.  Second, I did not have any fresh parsley, so I skipped adding the parsley at the end.  But, in the future, I will definitely make sure that I have parsley to add as a garnishment.

The following is my adaptation of the recipe from Regional Italian Cuisine.  The original recipe can be found at pages 288-289.

CUSCUSU (Sicilian Couscous with Fish)
Serves 4-6

1 and 2/3 cups of couscous
1 big pinch of saffron
1 pinch of ground clove
1 pinch of ground nutmeg
1 pinch of cinnamon
1 and 1/2 to  2 pounds of mixed fish
6 cups of seafood stock
2 cups of flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 whole cloves
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

1.  Prepare the fish and saffron.  Cut the fillets into even sized pieces, rinse those pieces and set aside in a refrigerator.  Dissolve the saffron in a few tablespoons of the stock.

2.  Cook the couscous.  Pour four cups of fish stock in a pot, with the bay leaf and whole cloves.  Bring the fish stock to a boil. Add the couscous in a heat resistant sieve or colander.  Moisten the couscous with the saffron and water.  Place the couscous over the boiling fish stock and cover.  Steam for about twenty minutes, periodically fluffing up the couscous, until it is done.

3.  Cook the fish.  Meanwhile, bring two cups of seafood stock to a boil in a deep pan or pot.  Place the fish in the stock and simmer for about five to ten minutes on medium. 

4.  Season the couscous.  When the couscous is done, season it with the salt, pepper, ground cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg and place on a preheated platter.

5.  Plate the dish.  Top the couscous with the fish and sprinkle the chopped parsley.


For more about the history of Sicilian cuisine, check out In Mama's Kitchen and Wikipedia.

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